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Nobody asked me, but ...

By Drew Markol, Contributing Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - If I only knew then what I know, you might not be reading this today.

It was the summer of 1995 and I was sitting in a gym in Harrisburg, Pa., watching the best high school basketball players in the state compete in something called the Keystone Games (Pennsylvania's version of the Olympics).

Kobe Bryant, a month before entering his senior year of high school, was already a big name by then, at least within the state. And this, remember, was way before the Internet had pretty much ruined the chance of seeing a diamond in the rough nobody knew of.

But there was only one diamond playing this day in a tiny, steamy little gym, and it was Kobe.

His team, made up of suburban Philadelphia studs, would win this gold medal game, 62-59. Thanks in enormous part to the 58 points from Kobe. This wasn't a man playing against boys. This was a man playing against himself to see if he could carry the rest of his team. And carry he did. At age 16.

As soon as that game ended is when I should have applied to be an NBA general manager and insisted that my employer pick the high school kid from Lower Merion with the No. 1 pick in the June 1996 draft.

Now, in my defense, Kobe said after that game that he was still weighing his college options. Duke, maybe La Salle where his dad, Jelly Bean, had starred, were in the running. Perhaps only he, in the back of his mind, was thinking the NBA, and not college, was a possibility.

Regardless, once he said he was foregoing college is when I should have been hired. Granted, I would have been a risk to hire, a guy with no experience. But I would have bet my life savings on the kid with the funny first name.

Bryant ended up being taken 13th in the '96 draft, 12 spots lower than he should have gone.

Allen Iverson went first and Ray Allen fifth, but Lorenzen Wright, Samaki Walker, Vitaly Potapenko and Todd Fuller, all taken ahead of Bryant, didn't quite have the same type of career as the future Hall of Famer and one of the top five players in NBA history.

That Kobe tale is a lead in to today's look at which NBA players playing now will be heading to Springfield, Mass., in a few years to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

It's not a long list, but it starts with Kobe. Who else will be joining him? Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs. He came into the league a year after Bryant and has won four NBA titles. The best power forward in league history? That seems fair.

Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics. Another high school player who never bothered with college. A great player and perhaps the best trash talker since Jordan.

Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat. He won a championship before convincing LeBron James and Chris Bosh to meet him in Miami. After he did that, he won another one and probably will get a couple more rings.

LeBron James, Miami Heat. If he quit playing today, he'd be in. But he needs another championship, or three, to truly cement his greatness.

Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks. The knock on him was that he'd never won a ring. Then he did. Has there ever been a better outside shooting big man?

Jason Kidd, New York Knicks. A triple-double machine who made every team he touched better.

Steve Nash, Los Angeles Lakers. From Canada to Santa Clara to Springfield. It's a long, strange trip Nash deserves to make.

Ray Allen, Miami Heat. The best outside shooter I've ever seen. And I'm old. If you want your kid to learn to shoot, have him watch video of Allen.

Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder. You're heading in the right direction, for sure.

There are others who seem to be on course for the Hall - Chris Paul, Paul Pierce, Tony Parker, Brandon Roy - but they have work to do.

For today, for now, there are 10. That's it.

Drew Markol has been a sportswriter and columnist for several Philadelphia-area newspapers for over 25 years.

02/28 09:46:48 ET

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